I can count the number of times I felt beautiful on one hand.
The first time, a boy named Bobby joined the rest of us neighborhood kids for a game of kick ball. Me and Thahn were bickering good-naturedly when I overheard, “Is she your girlfriend?” I looked over at this tall, lanky blond with the shy smile, just as Thahn, the prick, recoiled at the thought. But Bobby just beamed. He would sneak looks back at me in the cafeteria from across several tables, or in our English Honors class, blushing. We played basketball in his driveway, threw a frisbee in the middle of Juniper Street, sat on his front porch in comfortable silence. He taught me how to say “I Love You” in German. That spring and early summer were the best times of my life. Textbook.
The second time, I was out of college in my early 20s. My friends and I were at a nightclub overlooking Waikiki Beach, dancing up a storm. INXS’s “New Sensation” played when this tall, handsome blond came over and shyly asked if he could dance with me. We danced through two songs when he apologized, signaling for the restroom and begging me to stay put. He rushed back to dance one more when one of my friends, the troublesome one, threw a fit because nobody asked her to dance. She demanded I drive her home. I had to leave without saying goodbye. He was the first guy who ever asked me to dance. I never got his name.
If I could rewind my life, try again, I would. Maybe different parents, parents who treated me like a girl instead of a handicap or a punching bag. Maybe a brother who didn’t constantly deflect by calling me psycho and blimp.
Other than these two times, I’ve never felt truly beautiful. How could I?
I survived physical and emotional abuse, molestation and date rape.
My relationships have been short-lived or disastrous: a closeted gay, a Ninja in his own mind, a freak, a hermit who hated going out in public with me, an English professor who used me to play out a B movie about manic-depression and saving the pudgy girl in sweat pants.
The sex hasn’t exactly been movie-worthy, either. Mostly backwoods, back-alley shit. Furtive groping shot in the dark. Gross. The feeling you get after sneaking porn on your dad’s cable box.
My problem is that I don’t want to be beautiful. I can’t handle the baggage.
I’d rather be safe.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that an awful lot of overweight people have been violated in the worst way first.
I can hide under all this fat. I can avoid attention, good or bad.
My mom says I’m not pretty. My dad says I’m not good enough. My brother says I’m a huge psycho nobody will ever want to marry.
Bullies say I’m a flat-faced, slant-eyed gook jap chink go back where you came from go kill yourself.
I fought back a few times, got right with my body… But, I wasn’t comfortable with the attention focused on my tight ass, my shapely tits, my long ballerina-like neck. That’s what my molesters zeroed in on, too, making a mockery of what I should’ve been proud of.
Beautiful? That’s what Linda used to say over and over in her shed as she pawed over my 11-year-old body. I thought she was my best friend in sixth grade. How fucking stupid was I? Later, she wrote, “sick pertry” over her yearbook photo, after she soiled herself over the goods.
I learned real fast to keep my head down, to blend in, to be as invisible as possible.
I married a man who was afraid he wasn’t attracted to me, because, and I quote, “You aren’t my dream girl.” He tried to break up with me a month into dating, because he just couldn’t see himself with me, the antithesis of his beloved Elle Macpherson.
Instead of walking away, I held on, thinking this man was the best I was going to get. I felt comfortable, I felt safe with him. So, that was love in my world.
I know that he wanted to run many times, especially after I ballooned up past the point of no return a decade and some change after we tied the knot. I could feel his contempt. My mom would visit and add insult to injury, commenting, “Why he never open doors for you? Why you have to carry groceries? Maybe ’cause you gain so much weight. You need to make yourself look nice for your husband.”
If I were him, I would’ve left me years ago for that supermodel in his mind.
I could’ve at least tried to get back into shape. I did it before.
Maybe I gave up. Maybe it was too easy to go with the flow, let the stronger personalities take over, focus on my family over my own needs.
Maybe I simply didn’t care what I looked like anymore.
Until I had no choice.
What did it for me was visiting a friend who went past pre- into full-blown diabetes, along with a host of other afflictions. I didn’t want to be like her. That was five years ago.
I dropped a lot of weight through a lot of hard work and self-deprivation. I’m not quite there yet, though. I go up and down, depending on vacations, weekends, a movie night out, mapo tofu. Sometimes reaching 130 pounds, never mind 165, seems so far away, so goddamned impossible, so fucking pointless.
Yet, I persevere, so that I can stick around for my family. Every time I eat right and exercise, I regain a piece of myself. I redefine what it means to be beautiful — not on their terms, but my own.